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Grilled Whole Fish with Kokkari Dressing

Grilled Whole Fish with Kokkari Dressing

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Prepare a hot charcoal fire and move the coals to one half of the grill to leave an area for indirect grilling; or preheat a gas grill, turning one burner to high and another to medium. With a sharp knife, make a single deep incision on both sides of the fish, slicing from head to tail along the backbone.

Just before you are ready to grill, lightly oil the outside of the fish. Sprinkle inside and out with salt, pepper, and dried oregano.

Cook the fish directly over the hot zone of the grill until the skin browns on one side, 3-4 minutes. Then move the fish, without turning, away from the coals or to the medium zone of the gas grill until the flesh is almost fully cooked on the bottom side, 3-4 minutes longer. Turn the fish and move it directly over the hottest zone of the grill to crisp and brown the second side. Then move it to the grill’s cooler zone until the flesh begins to pull away from the backbone at the incision. Total cooking time for the fish is about 15 minutes.

Transfer the fish to a platter. Fillet the upper half of the fish with 2 large spoons, working from the incision to lift the meat off the bone in larger pieces and onto a dinner plate. With 2 spoons, grasp the head and lift it; the entire skeleton should follow in one piece, detaching cleanly from the lower half of the fish. You can offer the head and skeleton to your guest (some people love the meaty "cheeks" on either side of the head), or reserve for making a light fish stock. Transfer the bottom fillet to the dinner plate. Drizzle with the dressing and accompany with the lemon halves and extra dressing on the side.

Whole Grilled Fish Recipe

Grilling whole fish is one of the best ways to prepare a fresh catch. It requires little more than a hot fire and can be done on the beach, right next to the river or at home.

There are a few important things to remember when grilling a fish whole . The first is that it the skin is likely to stick to the cooking surface. To prevent sticking, make sure to oil the grates and the fish before grilling.

A step that most people miss is not patting the fish dry. If you grill the fish while it’s still cold or wet, it will release steam and stick to the grates. The last thing you want to see is your hard-earned dinner falling apart or engulfed by flames.

Pro tip: score your fish by slashing through the skin and meat vertically across the filets. Scoring will ensure that the fish cooks evenly and quickly. This is beneficial when working with large fish.

If you plan on grilling while camping, I suggest making this refreshing cajun verde sauce in advance to spoon over the fish. The sauce is made up of green onion, celery leaves and green bell pepper. These ingredients subtly reference the flavors of the Holy Trinity, the bayou’s version of mirepoix. In addition to serving with fish, this sauce works well with grilled vegetables, rice or as a salad dressing.

Grilled Whole Fish

Make 3 to 4 parallel cuts (1 1/2 inches apart) into fish, slicing into the flesh at a 45-degree angle, down to the bone. Combine shallot, garlic, herbs, lemon zest and juice, salt, and 2 tablespoons olive oil in a blender. Process until combined. (Marinade should still have a chunky texture.) Place fish in a shallow dish pour marinade over fish, turning to coat both sides and pressing into cuts. Cover and refrigerate 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, light one side of grill, heating to medium-high heat (350° to 400°) heat leave other side unlit.

Wipe excess marinade from fish brush fish with remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil. Place fish on well-oiled grates directly over heat grill 5 to 7 minutes. Carefully turn fish using 2 oiled metal spatulas, and place on unlit side grill, covered with grill lid, 15 to 20 minutes or until fish flakes easily when tested with a knife.

How to Spot a Fresh Fish: Look for scales that are firmly attached and glistening with moisture. The eyes should be bright and clear the gills should be vibrant and show no sign of drying out. Does the fish smell like fish? If so, then it's a no-go. Good, pristine-quality seafood smells only of the sea, violets, and scents of melon and cucumber.

Grilled Whole Branzino with Avocado Mango Salad.

[This post is sponsored by The Home Depot! I am so so excited to be partnering with them through the rest of 2019 to share amazing grilling recipes with you, using the new Weber Genesis II E315 grill! To start, you’re going to LOVE this grilled whole fish.]

Hello hello! How do I even begin to tell you how much I love this grilled branzino?

Oh my gosh. To say I am wild about this recipe would be an understatement. This meal. This method! I’m thrilled to be able to share it with you and show you how we have been loving this branzino and how easy (. ) it is to make at home.

But first! I am so excited to be partnering with The Home Depot for all of 2019 to share some of the most incredible recipes using the Weber Genesis II E315 Grill. We have made some amazing recipes so far (think grilled broccoli salad (it’s coming!) and grilled shishito peppers and tons of grilled pizza, of course!) and I’m going to share how we utilize our grill the entire year, especially come Fall and Winter.

Grilling is essential to my cooking because it adds so.much.flavor. I mean, especially when it comes to vegetables – that’s exactly what I need. Otherwise I find myself covering them in copious amounts of cheese and, well… you know how that ends.

The smoky flavor that a grill adds to some of my favorite foods is a game changer.

A few things about this beauty:

The Weber Genesis II E315 Grill is brand new (. ) from Weber and The Home Depot. It’s super sleek! The Home Depot offers free delivery on all gills AND free assembly on grills purchased in the store (hello, thank you!), so it’s super simple to get one up and running.

I’m obsessed with this one because it’s SO easy to use.

That’s an obvious must for me. And it as a ton of grill space.

So! To kick off grilling season, I wanted to go a little outside of our comfort zone and show you how we grill a WHOLE fish.

Yep. The whole darn thing. Grilled whole fish is going down.

If you’ve ordered a whole fish dish in a restaurant, you know how incredible it is. But. It can be quite intimidating, right? To make that at home by yourself? Definitely a challenge if you’re unfamiliar with the preparation. I wanted to show you that if I can do it, you can definitely do it. And grilling is a fantastic way to start because by grilling the whole fish, it says super juicy and flavorful.

We eat fish fairly often, at least once a week. You probably know this because I’m a broken record.

I love it I could probably eat it every day. Eddie enjoys it too (except for salmon… whomp whomp), and the issue that I come across the most is finding fish that is fresh and of course, caught and sold in a sustainable fashion. (p.s. Here in Pittsburgh, we have some great options for that – my go-to’s are Wholey’s, Penn Ave Fish Company and even Whole Foods.)

While I am very confident in cooking almost anything, the first time I considered cooking a whole fish, it freaked me out. We eat it so often though and lately, I’ve been getting my salmon from Butcher Box and it has a ton of pin bones. We are talking a ton – like all of them.

And that’s fine, I know how to remove the pin bones and I am diligent in doing so because Emilia also really loves salmon. But since I was already doing that, I figured I could easily cook a whole fish.

I could definitely do it!

The thing is that I shouldn’t have been THAT freaked out about grilling a whole fish for the first time. I’ve mentioned about a million times over the last decade how I watched my dad catch fish in Northern Michigan, and then we’d actually watch him clean it and cook it too.

Here is my most important suggestion, and what I do:

Ask your fishmonger for all their tips when you’re purchasing your whole fish. Ask them to clean it out too, which I ALWAYS have them do. And have them remove the scales. That is a huge help, and while a few scales usually remain, it takes a ton of time off your hands.

And if you tell them you’re going to GRILL the whole fish, they may have some ideas for you.

This is the simplest, most flavorful way to prepare branzino, which is the fish I chose. I also grilled a red snapper while at it, and it’s DELISH. All the details are below! Fresh lemon, salt, pepper, garlic, herbs – these are the perfect ingredients you need to complement the fish.

While serving a whole fish straight off the grill is a gorgeous presentation, I needed to know how to remove the bones from the fish since I wanted to serve this to my kids. I followed this exact method from serious eats for carving and serving the whole fish and it worked great. I recommend purchasing a pair of kitchen tweezers to have on hand if you like to eat fish frequently. This can grab any extra pin bones!

Now that I’m rambled on about grilled whole fish forever, I have to tell you that this is the butteriest (it’s a word), most flavorful fish I have EVER had.

The extra effort is worth it.

And it’s sort of like roasting a whole chicken – once you do it a few times, it gets so much easier. I promise. You’re freaked at first and then after the third time you do it, you’re like I can do this every single day. I would never steer you wrong.

Oh oh and one more thing. For serving, I love to add lemon wedges on the side. This is how we’ve eaten fish since I was a kid, it’s how my dad would serve it. It’s ridiculously fresh and flavorful. But in case you want to make this more of a meal, this simple avocado mango salad is downright delish. It’s so easy to throw together and has loads of flavor.

Recipe Summary

  • One 6-pound cleaned sea bass or other firm white-fleshed fish (see Note)
  • 1/3 cup sambal oelek or other Asian chile sauce
  • Salt
  • 15 cilantro sprigs
  • 5 large basil sprigs
  • 5 cloves of garlic, crushed
  • 4 Thai or serrano chiles, halved lengthwise
  • 1 lime, thinly sliced crosswise, plus lime wedges, for serving

Light a charcoal grill. Set the fish on 2 large sheets of heavy-duty aluminum foil. Rub the sambal oelek inside and all over the fish. Season with salt. Stuff the fish with the cilantro, basil, garlic, chiles and lime slices. Wrap the foil around the fish and seal to form a packet.

Grill the fish over indirect heat for about 1 hour, until an instant-read thermometer inserted in the thickest part of the fish registers 135°. If using a gas grill, cover and grill the fish over low heat for about 50 minutes, turning once. Carefully transfer the fish to a baking sheet and let rest for about 5 minutes. Open the packet and fillet the fish. Serve with lime wedges.

Step 3: Time to Turn

Knowing when to turn the fish is a little bit of a guessing game. Generally speaking, though, I wait until it looks like the skin has browned nicely before attempting to turn it.

When I am ready to try to flip the fish, I use a trick I learned from fish master and chef Dave Pasternack of Esca in New York City. Most people try to turn a fish on the grill with a spatula, but that's asking for trouble: You have to slide the spatula under the fish, and if the fish is sticking at all, you're not going to find out until you've shredded the thing. Others use tongs, but I find that you're more likely to manhandle a fish with them.

Instead, Pasternack taught me to use a carving fork. By inserting the tines down through the grill grate, you can attempt to lift the fish from below. If it resists, stop trying, and let it cook longer until the skin releases. If it's ready, the fish will lift right up. If you've prepped the grill and fish well, and waited long enough, the fish will not stick.

Getting ready to attempt the lift.

Once I've determined that the fish is ready to roll, I position a spatula on the far side to catch it, then complete the turn. Using the spatula, I ease it down onto the grill on the other side.

Next, it's just a matter of waiting for it to cook through. It's ready when an instant-read thermometer inserted in the thickest part registers about 135°F (57°C). Again, if you think the skin is getting too brown before the fish is cooked through, just use the carving fork to lift it, then move it to a cooler part of the grill to finish.

Recipe Summary

  • 1 (2-pound) whole striped bass, gutted, scaled, and trimmed, on both sides (see Scoring Whole Fish, below)
  • 1 ½ tablespoons olive oil
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • ¼ teaspoon black pepper
  • 4 sprigs fresh thyme, divided
  • 4 sprigs fresh rosemary
  • 4 sprigs fresh lavender (optional)
  • Lemon slices
  • Lemon rind strips
  • Fresh thyme, rosemary, and, if desired, lavender sprigs

Preheat grill to medium-high heat. Score whole striped bass rub evenly with olive oil. Sprinkle skin and scored flesh with salt and pepper. Place 4 sprigs each of thyme, rosemary, and (if desired) fresh lavender into cavity. Tuck 3 lemon slices, 1 strip lemon rind, and 1 sprig of each herb into each scored slit. Grill 7 minutes on each side or until desired degree of doneness. (Or place fish on a baking pan, and roast at 425° for about 25 minutes.)

Making incisions through the skin and flesh (called scoring) takes the guesswork out of cooking whole fish.

Choose the right fish. Round fish--which have an eye on each side of the head, such as bass, snapper, and trout--are ideal.

Make deep cuts. Use a chef's knife to cut through the flesh at a 45-degree angle, down to the bone. Score 1 1/2 inches apart between the pectoral fin and tail.

Fill with flavor. Deep, angled pockets provide a wide area to stuff herbs and thoroughly season the flesh and the skin.

Cook to perfection. Scoring deep cuts lets heat circulate around the flesh for quick, even cooking. Check doneness inside the cut, at the thickest part of the fish. The flesh should be firm and opaque and separate easily from the bone.

Whole Fish Grilled The Greek Way

Should you ever be so lucky enough to have a whole fish on your hands, I recommend that you do it justice by grilling it as the Greeks do: directly over open heat and dressed with a delicious bath of olive oil, lemon juice and fresh herbs. That’s exactly what I did with the whole striped bass that I found the other day, though any mild white-fleshed fish will do (sea bream, branzini, red snapper, trout).

Grilled whole fish makes for a healthy and incredibly satisfying meal. A 3-pound fish feeds two very hungry people, but if you have a lot of other side dishes it could certainly sustain another diner. If you can get a fish that’s been scaled, gutted and cleaned properly, that will make your life a whole lot easier. Otherwise, take to YouTube for great tutorials that can show you the process, step-by-step.

The prepping and grilling of the fish is the easiest part of this dish. The herb dressing is not much more work than chopping up a couple of garlic cloves and a smattering of fresh herbs (parsley, dill, mint, scallions). Then, simply mix it with olive oil, lemon juice, capers and dried oregano and adjust the taste with salt and black pepper to your liking. The dried oregano is really what gives it that Greek touch! Once the fish is done, you can spoon this lively dressing over the whole thing to finish it off.

A pair of long-handled tongs and a large fish spatula will be helpful tools for handling the fish on the grill. You’ll find that parts of the skin will char and release from the flesh–opa! Don’t worry, that doesn’t mean that you’ve done anything wrong. It happens. The char is actually desirable in this case as it lends a remarkable smoky flavor to the fish. The result you’re aiming for is a flaky, tender and moist grilled fish.

Breaking Bread at Balade

As far as side dishes, I served mine with potato wedges roasted in butter with garlic, sage, lemon juice and lemon zest alongside a crisp Greek salad of chopped romaine, grape tomatoes, cucumber, red onions and feta cheese crumbles. You could also do a simple rice pilaf, orzo, or really create a feast by adding warm pita bread and an array of dips, like hummus, tatziki and baba ghanoush.

Recipe Summary

  • One 2-pound fish, such as branzino, red snapper or sea bass, cleaned and scaled
  • Extra-virgin olive oil, for brushing and drizzling
  • Salt
  • Freshly ground pepper
  • 4 parsley stems
  • 1 crushed garlic clove
  • 2 halved lemon slices

Light a grill. Let the fish stand at room temperature for 20 minutes pat dry with paper towels.

Brush the fish all over with olive oil and season generously inside and out with salt and pepper. Stuff the cavity with the parsley stems, garlic and lemon.

Brush the grate with oil. Grill the fish over moderately high heat, uncovered, until lightly charred and it releases easily from the grate, 10 minutes. Turn and grill until the flesh is white throughout, 10 minutes longer. Transfer the fish to a platter and let stand for 10 minutes. Drizzle with oil and serve.

Recipe Summary

  • Olive oil, for rubbing
  • 2 white fish, such as scup, pike, perch, or trout (each 1 1/2 to 2 pounds), gutted, scaled, and patted dry
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 4 lemons, 2 thinly sliced into rounds, 2 halved
  • 1 bunch fresh thyme
  • Sorrel Green-Goddess Dressing, for serving

Preheat grill for direct-heat cooking, or build a fire and burn down wood until only red coals and gray ash remain.

Rub a thin film of oil over cavities and skins of fish. Generously season all over (including cavities) with salt and pepper. Divide half of lemon rounds and thyme sprigs evenly between cavities. Secure cavities with skewers.

Place fish in a grill basket scatter remaining lemon rounds, halved lemons, and thyme around them. Place basket on grill grate and cook, turning once, until fish are charred in places and just cooked through, 12 to 15 minutes, depending on size. Fillet fish and cut into portions. Serve with grilled lemon halves and dressing.


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  4. Isaakios

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